Oléna Simon performed tracks from her solo project at September’s GRASSROOTS with Fannar Ásgrímsson on beats and production.
The two of them, along with Jónas Thór Guðmundsson, are also a part of a three-piece music group called Asonat. Although they consider themselves an Icelandic group, they’re very much international: Jónas is living in Estonia, Fannar Ásgrímsson is in Iceland and French vocalist Oléna Simon plans to move to Japan.
Though, Jonas says, “Despite this constant moving around, we are in total synchronization toward how the music should be.”
Their new album “Connection,” was released at the end of September, and has been well received by the press. The record landed on the number 1 spot at WRAS Radio 88.5FM in Atlanta and Nordic Playlist rated it as one of “10 Unmissable New Nordic Albums” alongside Ásgeir’s “In The Silence” (Iceland) and Love To’s “Queen of the Clouds” (Sweden).
This weekend, I managed to snap a photo of Asonat’s nomination for “Best Music Video Award” (off their new album) at the Northern Wave Film Festival in a small fjord village called Grundarfjörður. Although the prize went to Úlfur Úlfur’s Tarantúlur, it was such a typical “Iceland” moment of interconnection to watch their music video just days after writing this blog.
I shared some time with the Asonat crew and interviewed them about their music, recent album and collaborative style (my personal notes are marked in parenthesis).
What’s the story behind Asonat?
Fannar and I first met in late 2010 when he moved back to Iceland after living in Barcelona for a while. We both had been releasing on the same label (Oakland-based n5md) with our own projects before and decided, since we were both the only Icelanders on the label, to meet up and grab a cup of tea and bagels. We decided to try to make a few tracks together and everything clicked on the first try. Soon enough, we had material and ideas for a whole album.
Some of the songs needed vocals and I‘d contacted friends to help out. I heard Oléna perform in Reykjavik and I thought her vocals would fit perfectly into one track that we were working on. We invited her for a cup of tea, made her realize that we are not weirdoes and she took the bait. She sang perfectly for us in a couple of tracks. We thought we might explore that relationship further after the first album was released. We were happy with the outcome of the first tests for the second album, which featured her vocals and decided to ask her to join us as a permanent member. She agreed, thankfully!
Asonat performs at last year’s Iceland Airwaves, a “showcase music festival” which brings together Icelandic and international artists to perform in one of several venues around Reykjavík. Asonat is playing two shows at this year’s sold out Airwaves festival, scheduled for November 5-9.
Asonat is a self-described Icelandic group but it’s also mobile and nomadic band in a lot of ways too: Guðmundsson is based in Estonia, Oléna was based in France (and is likely moving to Japan) and Fannar is here in Iceland. How does this impact your music and the way you collaborate or perform?
Despite this constant moving around, we are in total synchronization toward how the music should be. We all have similar ideas on what we want to achieve and that makes the partnership so comfortable. Most of the work happens through Dropbox and we try to meet up as much as possible when we are finally all in the same country.
Jónas is right, the situation makes our creativity richer. It’s an extra challenge, it forces us to communicate with a sense of royal truth. I feel the distance makes us more intimate, and then when we meet, it’s pure joy!
Released on September 30th, Asonat’s new album “Connection” has a fresh indie pop sound that gives “Oléna’s vocals more space.”
Your new album Connection came out on the 30th of last month. Your sound has gone through an evolution from the previous record (“Love in Times of Repetition”). How do you all feel about the record? What was the process like?
The process was longer and harder than before. We wanted to try a different approach and have the whole overall sound more finely detailed. There was confusion in the beginning about how the album should be, mainly because we were focusing on the wrong things.
We sat down together last Christmas and re-thought the whole album. We originally had around 16 to 17 tracks, but cut it down to what it is today (“Connection” has 10 tracks). We did those tracks perfectly. For the first time we put our trust in someone else to do the mixing for us, which was a weird experience, but a good one too because we are thrilled with the outcome. Sometimes you need an outsider’s perspective in your music, especially when you have listened to your own tracks 700 to 800 times and start to lose sight of what your are trying to achieve.
The whole sound, I would say, is more pop-oriented than the debut release. We tried to give Oléna‘s vocals more space. The whole pop direction wasn‘t intentional, more of an accident. Our backgrounds are all from different genres. Jónas for example, mostly involved with more IDM and Electro, while I come from folk roots which later led me into ambient electronica. Olèna’s music education is basically traditional Ukrainian classic in general and folk music taught to her by her parents’ taste and school, which turned into experimental music when studying contemporary art.
I know you three already know this, but I’m really stoked about this part so I’ll mention it again: Saga Fest is focused on connecting people to each other and with the planet. Could you speak about this guiding principle? Is this important in your work as artists? Do you believe your music drives transformation, and if so, how?
The principle of [connection] is fulfilled as a musician when you get to share your production to the public. You give listeners a private view of [how you perceive] things.
It is completely up to the person on how they receive and translate these emotions. We have no power over how this would be interpreted. It’s how we share, transform and make connections.